Scope and Contents
The collection consists primarily of American menus but also includes international ones, primarily European (Britain, Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, etc.). These menus are from a variety of restaurant types – those associated with hotels, those owned by individuals, and those that were part of small or large chains. Collected from the mid-1960s through the mid-1990s, the menus document the rise of restaurant chains, as well as franchises during this period. Since many of the menus were never opened they can be easily dated either by the postmark on the envelope, correspondence included with them, or the dates printed on the actual items. There are more menus from moderate or low priced restaurants than from high-end ones, providing insight into the average American's dining experience.
Evidently Mrs. Mericle's request was not unusual because the restaurants often responded warmly to her. Collecting menus as souvenirs seems to have been encouraged as a form of "word-of-mouth" advertising. A few menus actually are marked, "Please don't take this menu – ask for a souvenir instead;" some had a preprinted address block so they could be mailed. Most managers included a letter, thanking her for her interest, or hoping to see her soon, or apologizing for the delay in responding. Managers of restaurants located in hotels often included information about the hotel or tourist brochures about their area, to spark her interest. In addition the envelopes often contained more than one menu. Depending on the type of restaurant, menus for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; inserts with the day's specials; daily menus for restaurants that changed their bill of fare daily; children's menus; and wine lists were included.
With the increasing number of families "eating out" during this three decade period and the development of the term "family restaurant," the menus document changing food selections and choices, and terms which appealed to this growing clientele. Childrearing practices, and child-appropriate foods and behaviors can also be examined through these materials. The change and variation in menu format and design of the average American restaurant as evidenced in these menus provide insight into marketing and sales devices.
The materials are organized into two series. Series one, subseries one consists of American menus and is arranged in alphabetical order, first by state and then by the name of the restaurant. Series one, subseries two contains materials other than menus including brochures, pamphlets, and a recipe book. Series two includes foreign menus and isare arranged in alphabetical order by country.